There are reasons to fear the Dec. 2 special town meeting in Provincetown. On its face, it pits public safety against housing; neighbors with quiet backyards against people who are desperately trying to stay here despite astronomical real estate costs; and a respected leader against essential principles of good governance.
Fire Chief Michael Trovato has presented a petition with 203 signatures, thus forcing a town meeting to vote on whether to use the former VFW lot for a police and fire station rather than as a site for affordable housing.
There are so many issues at play, intersecting with each other like a bad dream in geometry class, that it’s easy to be discouraged. But let’s look at the research that has already been done.
The select board appointed a building committee in 2012 to find the best police station site. After more than 50 meetings, they reported four options in January 2017: rebuild the current station at 26 Shank Painter Road; purchase the property next door, Dr. Brian O’Malley’s former office at 30 Shank Painter; put the police station at the VFW; or build it directly across the street from the VFW on a town-owned parcel at 16 Jerome Smith Road.
The cost of buying O’Malley’s office would have made that option more expensive than the other choices. Rebuilding the current station would require temporary quarters for the police somewhere else, which would also make it more expensive. The VFW and 16 Jerome Smith were both already owned by the town, and of those two the committee recommended 16 Jerome Smith.
That would leave the VFW for affordable housing, which has been at the top of the town’s priority list for two decades.
Chief Trovato deserves the utmost respect, but his town meeting petition is out of line. In making his argument for a combined police and fire facility at the VFW, he names the need for added space for bunk rooms and training facilities and a need to vastly expand the emergency medical services part of his department. These items, however, never came up during the entire police station saga — until June of this year. His proposal does not even have a budget.
There are no villains here. Chief Trovato wants the best for the health and fire safety of the town.
On Dec. 2, this can all be discussed with kindness and respect, but Chief Trovato’s proposal should fail. As the select board and others have pointed out, this just isn’t how it’s done. Building plans don’t get approved without budgets; and an outdoor training facility or an expanded EMS department cannot be accepted on the fly.
There’s a process that every department head goes through to present their needs. It’s transparent and evidence based. It’s done that way so that voters have a chance to see that their taxes are being spent in a responsible way, and it deserves to be respected.